Aquadale: What happened? Government response
State government agencies also attempted to make Solite clean up its emissions. Between 1990 and 2000, Solite paid an estimated $230,000 in fines to a variety of state agencies for air permit violations, installing equipment without permits or testing, poor record-keeping, and illegal water discharges, among other violations.
During the 1990s, Solite agreed at least three times to suspend hazardous waste incineration.
In this same time period, state agencies confirmed the existence of four unlined waste piles at Solite, one of which contained a toxic concentration of cadmium.
State agencies and universities conducted various studies to find out if people living near Solite or other hazardous waste incinerators have more health problems than other people not living close to incinerators. Some of these studies found high levels of heavy metals, and one found a slightly elevated lifetime risk of cancer. Other studies did not find a difference in short term health effects or rates of cancer between people living near hazardous waste incinerators and people living farther away.
During 1994-1996, Solite requested new permits that would allow the company to triple the amount of hazardous waste stored at the site and double the amount that they could burn each year.
In 2000, about 20 homeowners, activists, lawyers, and a representative from the Attorney General’s office met with state officials to discuss their continuing concerns about Solite and present a petition with 1,500 signatures asking that the plant be shut down. Residents talked about the effect of the pollution on their land values and health, and state officials presented a draft report suggesting that Solite’s permit be revoked for a second time. As a result of this meeting, Solite made a deal with the state in which they agreed to stop burning hazardous waste and to use other fuel, such as used motor oil or coal.
In 2004, Solite sold its Aquadale facility to Carolina Stalite. Carolina Stalite also produces concrete blocks, but does not burn hazardous waste as fuel. Solite Corporation no longer operates any plants in North Carolina, but they have plants in Virginia, Kentucky, and New York. In 2005, community activists in Virginia successfully shut down one of Solite’s plants in that state.
As a result of incomplete and inaccurate records, the state has no way of verifying Solite’s emissions records from 2002-2004. The NC Department of Air Quality fined the company $268,616 in 2005 for intentionally submitting false data as well as other violations. Solite Corporation filed an appeal of the fine; as of December 2006 this appeal process was still underway.
“I don’t think the laws in place are adequate, and even the laws that are in place [are] not enforced. That was one of the fights we had to face. Solite had a stack of violations and non compliances. I mean, they even had their permits revoked! But the state would turn around and give it right back to them. . . . Solite was so powerful, and they had so much money. They could get their people to go and talk to the lawmakers and the people in positions that were able to take care of things like that for them.”
– Community Member